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Oh, It's Good News

People who've undergone direct-to-consumer personal genetic testing respond more strongly to good news than bad and to a single surprising finding than an array of expected ones, according to a study appearing in Nature Biotechnology.

Researchers led by the Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School's Robert Green drew on a cohort of 617 23andMe users, who had enrolled in the Impact of Personal Genomics (PGen) study. Before and six months after getting their genetic testing results, the cohort reported their risk perception of nine conditions like Alzheimer's disease, lung cancer, and type II diabetes, as well as any conditions in which they had a particular interest.

On average, Green and his colleagues found that the participants updated their risk perception after receiving their results. While participants' perception of risk changed upon receiving both decreased and elevated risk results, there was a greater change after learning good news.

"There is an optimism bias, in that people want to believe good news," first author Joshua Krieger, a doctoral student at the MIT Sloan School of Management, says in a statement.

At the same time, the researchers found that when the participants had a large change in risk perception for single condition, they were more likely to seek medical advice than learning general or moderate risk for a number of conditions.

"It doesn't seem like people are flocking to the doctor with [insignificant] results and trying to take action with every little change in risk perception," Krieger adds.